A film that invites you to identify with the lives of the women featured in it.


Sung-A Yoon's award-winning documentary is set in a training centre in the Philippines attended by young women who are OFWs. That term refers to Overseas Filipino Workers who feel compelled to support their families by taking work abroad as cleaners, nannies, carers or domestic workers. By making this choice, they earn more than they ever could at home, but the conditions in which they find themselves when taking up these posts can often be harsh. This can be due to how their employers treat them or to being expected to live in inadequate accommodation. Furthermore, contracts are likely to be for two years and in many cases these women are mothers who are leaving their children to be cared for by others.


Overseas is one of those observational documentaries that foregoes any commentary and for most of the time it also eschews camera movement and favours long-held static shots. That gives the film a certain sense of formality and its style may not appeal to all although it is certainly well photographed. However, it is the direct comments made by the women which come to dominate and to give the film its humanity. As in a somewhat comparable piece, The Young Observant, also recently seen on MUBI, we learn little about the establishment involved and one wonders why those being trained there should include so many who have already worked overseas in such places as Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong. A query of a different sort arises from the fact that Overseas contains scenes that are enactments: some of these are set up as part of the training process to illustrate situations that may be encountered, but others suggest scenes created specifically for the film (one in the latter category is seen at the start when we observe a young woman cleaning a toilet and succumbing to tears). However, that episode works as a symbolical expression of what the lives of these workers can be.


Regardless of such stylisations in the film's treatment of its subject, what needs to be stressed is that as the film proceeds Overseas draws the viewer more and more into the lives of these women and we hear a teacher not hesitating to declare that what they are doing amounts to a sacrifice. One instruction given is never to show weakness by crying in front of an employer and another is that in the event of finding yourself being abused, whether sexually otherwise, your first contact should be your agency rather than the police with the immigration authorities as a last resort. The film covers the process from all angles ranging from what the centre teaches to the steps involved in applying to travel abroad. In doing so it also makes clear the personal cost to those who dutifully take up this kind of work leaving loved ones behind. By the close the viewer feels that the experience of these women has been vividly conveyed and that without any false dramatic contrivance they have been enabled to understand exactly what it means to be one of these women.




Featuring  Wela Mae C. Bunda, Merly Omanha, Michelle ‘Jing Jing’ Mission, Maribeth Virgo, Anna Lyn D. Payo, Leah Jane F. Lutao, Mary Beth C. Campo, Juanita Planco, Marivic L. Dumaguit.


Dir Sung-A Yoon, Pro Quentin Laurent and Isabelle Truc, Screenplay Sung-A Yoon, Ph Thomas Schira, Ed Dieter Diependaele, Music Frédéric Verrières.


Clin d'oeil Films/Iota Productions/Les Productions de l'Oeil Sauvage-MUBI.
91 mins. Belgium/France. 2019. Rel: 25 November 2020. Available on MUBI. No Cert.